June 6, 2020

85 Years Since the On-to-Ottawa Trek

By Bronwyn Cragg, YCL-LJC member from Toronto

June 3rd, 2020 marks 85 years since the beginning of the On-to-Ottawa Trek, a watershed moment in Canadian labour history. Rebel Youth commemorates the militancy and unified struggle undertaken by workers and their allies in the summer of 1935 against poor working conditions and low pay, and recognizes that the On-to-Ottawa Trek marks just one moment in the ongoing fight for fair work and a living wage.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, we see global unemployment skyrocketing far beyond levels seen during the Great Depression -- in Canada alone, unemployment reached a whopping 13% by April 2020, only a month after shutdown measures, comparable to the 19% unemployment rate at the height of the Depression; in April, youth unemployment jumped to over 27%, with nearly 500,000 young people losing their jobs. With the crisis in health comes a crisis in capitalism, and with the crisis in capitalism comes all of its symptoms: poor mental health, high unemployment (especially of youth, racialized people, and the gender oppressed), lack of access to housing and education, tense foreign relations, a rise in outward white supremacy, higher rates of domestic violence, police clampdowns, and a spike in homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic rhetoric. The YCL-LJC recognized these symptoms during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and we see them become even more pronounced during the oncoming depression of the 2020s. Thus, we look to the past triumphs of the working class in order to organize ourselves today.

With a rise in racist police brutality, we also recognize that the police have always and will continue not to protect, but to serve to uphold capitalism and all of its illnesses. July 1st, 2020 marks 85 years since the murderous attack by police on On-to-Ottawa Trekkers, who -- much like today -- organized a peaceful rally in order to expose and combat the injustices of the capitalist system, and were met with tear gas and clubs from the RCMP. Blocking routes to safety, the RCMP injured and arrested hundreds of citizens of Regina and On-to-Ottawa Trekkers over a period of six hours, one Trekker even dying of his injuries in hospital. Many of these Trekkers were immigrants and racialized people, and nearly all of them were young working class people forced to toil for 44 hours a week for the benefit of the Canadian government.

The Young Communist League of Canada takes pride in the struggles waged and victories achieved by YCLers in generations past, including during the On-to-Ottawa Trek, during which -- although facing RCMP surveillance and brutality -- they organized student participants from across the country: YCLers and their allies from high schools and universities in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and beyond linked up with Trekkers, providing manpower, housing, and food in tandem with the Relief Camp Workers’ Union. Despite setbacks, hardships, and brutality, the Trekkers came out victorious with higher wages, the defeat of the Conservative government, and the eventual dismantlement of the inhumane relief camps.

Our struggle, however, continues: Rebel Youth calls on militant youth to organize against the persistent undermining of the rights of young working people, no doubt exacerbated by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and oncoming long term economic depression. Though we may draw inspiration from our past, we must continue to organize and to fight: for adequate healthcare, for housing justice, for the equality of racialized, gender oppressed, and 2S/LGBTIQ people, for accessible and free education, and for our right to a living wage; in short, for peace, equality, and socialism.

We have a new website - check it out at ry-jm.ycl-ljc.ca!

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